SOCOM II: U.S. Navy Seals
The original stood out as a shining light in the murky waters that is PS2 online gaming. Now, Sony's flagship online title gets a sequel and we tell you how it fares.
By Kikizo Staff
Terrorism may make for contentious debate in political circles, but for gamers, the mention of such conjures up images of highly trained clandestine operatives, covert missions and squad-based action titles. Though but one of many such titles on the market, SOCOM garnered a good deal of attention (and a sizeable fanbase) due in part to it being one of the first online titles for the PS2. Its success all but guaranteed a sequel, a title that has at last arrived on European shores. As the system's premier online franchise, it's clear from the outset that SOCOM II was designed to capitalize on the burgeoning population of online PS2 players: the multiplayer component is considerably more robust than that of its predecessor, offering not only fixes and tweaks, but a slew of new modes, maps and weapons.
In stark contrast, the single-player experience remains largely untouched. Granted, improvements have been made, especially as relating to AI and visuals, but in terms of gameplay, what's here is more representative of your average expansion pack than it is an entirely new game. Able element -- aided by Bravo element comprised of newcomers Wardog and Vandal -- as one expects of such Defenders of Truth and JusticeTM, return to once again smite villainy wherever it may arise, which just so happens to be in locales that span the globe. As such, players will guide their four-man squad through twelve missions across Russia, Brazil and some areas of Eastern Europe.
Much like the first outing, briefings, mission details, objectives, maps and weapon loadouts are proffered prior to the commencement of a mission. The missions themselves comprise a multitude of primary and secondary objectives (as well as bonus-hidden objectives) and often demand that players remain undetected for the duration of, or at least a portion of, the mission. The scope of objectives, disappointingly, remains much the same as that of the first game, asking players to perform the usual allotment of infiltration, demolition and intel-gathering escapades. It's all moderately enjoyable, and fans of the first will find lots to like, but one can't help but be disheartened by the lack of any real innovation.
As before, the headset remains an integral and rather entertaining piece of equipment, allowing players to issue voice commands to the team, elements and individual squad members. Players will have to make use of a limited vocabulary -- shouting "Kill them, kill them all!" is not likely to produce any measurable results -- and speak in a forced monotone to be reliably understood, but even with the odd quirk it remains a joy to use. Though somewhat less succinct than using the headset, an in-game menu interface can be used to much the same effect.
Having graduated from the lone adventure, players will discover a vastly different experience in multiplayer. As is perhaps true of any online title, your experience is dependent almost entirely by the people with whom you play. Realizing this, and heeding those lessons learnt from the first title, Zipper Interactive have made significant strides in preventing the use of cheats, thus ensuring a level playing field for all, at least for the immediate future. Other refinements -- accoutrements that long-time online gamers have since become used to -- such as live lobby chat, buddy and clan lists and rankings ensure a more user-friendly online experience. Naturally, the gameplay too has endured its fair share of upgrades: the original maps have been re-tooled to make better use of the new additions such as gun emplacements, and are ably complemented by no fewer than a dozen new maps, two modes and a cache of decidedly more destructive weapons which include, but are not limited to, rocket launchers and anti-personnel mines.
Escort, the first of the two new modes (Demolition, Suppression and Extraction are retained from the original), requires players to lead civilians across the map to an extraction point (multiple points are usually available), while those on the opposing team (ie. the terrorists) attempt to prevent them from doing so. Strategically placed weapon emplacements add a wrinkle to proceedings. Breach challenges one team to defend a base, while their opponents attempt to circumvent the various gun emplacements and other defenses, not the least of which is the opposing team, in order to infiltrate and then destroy the base. Those enamored with the first game will find plenty to keep themselves entertained with, while those who passed up on that game are sure to find more to their liking this time around.
With a new coat of paint, as it were, liberally applied, SOCOM II is noticeably improved upon its predecessor. This latest iteration sports improved animation and lighting, vastly superior level design and dense foliage, which in turn impacts the gameplay quite considerably -- try spotting someone hidden in a verdant patch from afar. Remnants of an aging engine detract from the experience somewhat, slathering certain areas in a thick blanket of fog, and suffering from an inconsistent framerate. Given the focus on sneaking around, the soundtrack, or to an extent, the lack thereof, is rather apt. Silence pervades much of the game, with only the occasional interjection to provide the player with new intelligence or the musings of your teammates piped into your earpiece. The commencement of a firefight is signaled with a rousing, action movie-esque piece, but this fades quickly once the threat has been removed. The responses of your teammates; authentic native languages of NPCs; and the voice-work of your female CO are all nicely done.
SOCOM II comes across as something of a rudimentary update, as opposed to a brand new experience, but it does offer an experience that is significantly different from that of most any other title on the system. It is also a good deal better than the first title, which more than makes it a worthwhile purchase for those players hankering for more online action.
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SOCOM II: US Navy Seals
Direct feed gameplay video from SCEA's online-enabled sequel.